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Fight or flight decision can make or break your day

Decisions that seem almost automatic, that we make with hardly a moment invested in pondering, can be pivotal in the outcomes of our days on the water.

Shall I turn left or right when I motor away from the dock? Do I tie a chartreuse crankbait to my line or go with a red one? Spinner or jig? Shallow or deep? Crappies or walleyes? Nightcrawler or minnow?

Our options include so many variables, it’s enough to make any angler’s head spin. But with a little intuition and a bit of knowledge, the odds of making the right choice increase exponentially.

Perhaps the biggest decision on any fishing day is whether to stay or go. If the score remains zero after an hour at a location, do you pull the plug and head for other water? Or do you tweak your tactics and grind it out?

It’s a decision as old as fishing itself.

We face the stay-or-go choice almost every time we go to the lake. Looking back over some of my more memorable days of fishing, I recognize that I changed my fortunes because I decided either to keep hammering the same area or move to new water.

Conversely, as I reflect on some of my more forgettable fishing days, I can see that at the critical point in the day, the time at which I faced the make-or-break moment, I failed to make the correct choice.

The challenge anglers is that there is no textbook answer to the grind-or-gallop question. What’s more, your decision to stay might pay dividends, while others on the same lake on the same day might hit big jackpots because they pulled out and moved on.

For me, choosing between stay or go boils down to what my head and my heart are telling me.

I recently faced that very question on one of my favorite lakes, Milton. The day was dreary and blustery as I launched the Bass Cat, and my first decision was whether to work the main lake points and structure for smallmouth bass or make the long idle up the river for largemouths in the cattail points near the Ellsworth Road bridge.

The smallies were tempting me, so I zoomed out to one of my favorite stretches of rocky shoreline and immediately hooked and lost a gyrating two-pounder. Within the first hour I boated several short fish and one long and skinny keeper.

Try as I might, I could not force-feed the smallmouth bass that I know live along that bank. The lead-gray sky was not ideal for smallies, which are known to up their activities on bright, sunny days.

With half of my fishing day already behind me, my options were to stay on the main lake and grind through the high-percentage areas or pull up the electric motor and go south into the river.

I decided to surrender my smallmouth ambitions and rigged up my flipping rods to pitch soft-plastic beavertail baits into the dark holes in cattail walls where largemouth bass like to lurk.

My decision paid off. I winched out several chunky bass and ended my day with the satisfaction that I did the right thing when the decisive moment arrived. I weighed the merits of staying on the smallie water under difficult conditions or switching gears and fishing for bass that might not be turned off by the cloudy weather.

Next time you go fishing, you will face similar decisions. Think through your options. Choose wisely and the fish will let you know whether you did the right thing.

Jack Wollitz’s new book, The Common Angler: A Celebration of Fishing, was released May 11. He enjoys emails from readers. Send a note to jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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